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Trade check-in: the first Ken Giles trade

Rebuilding Phillies get a lot for future closer

New York Mets v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

In 2015, the Houston Astros historical rebuild, that started from such a bottom place that even Drake would be rendered speechless, (a first for him, I would presume) came to an end.

(As a former Houston Resident who went to a ton of $5, first row games from 2010 to 2012, this was truly the end of an era.)

Graduated players barely put of a dent in a loaded farm system and Houston started to play buyer on the trade market.

Following a successful 2015 campaign, the Astros found a needed closer.

Hours after the conclusion of the 2015 Winter Meetings, baseball genius/Astros GM Jeff Luhnow acquired one of the game’s youngest, studliest relief pitchers from the Philadelphia Phillies.

Ken Giles, a seventh round pick in 2011 by Philly out of Yavapai Community College (Az.), has been reliever for all but six games of his pro baseball life. In his sophomoric minor league season, he was pretty good in six starts, but never pitched past 4.2 innings. Bullpen it is.

“100 Miles Giles” has always been about the extremely volatile power arm. As always, these arms giveth (velocity, K’s, late-inning success) and taketh (command issues, BB’s, late-inning troubles).

Giles was practically unhittable as a rookie for the Phillies, with a 1.18 ERA, .79 WHIP, 4.9 H/9 and 12.6 K/9 in 45.2 innings. He finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Miami Marlins v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

As a sophomore, he really struggled. His ERA rose to 1.80, his WHIP passed 1.0 and the Phillies decided to ship him off after the season. (Since it’s 2018, I feel I have to clarify I’m joking.)

Philadelphia had their future closer under control, but contention in Philly was a ways away (though it has arrived sooner than anticipated) and Houston’s time as a World Series contender had come.

The Astros traded five pitchers —two with MLB experience— to the National League to acquire the 25-year old closer.

2013 first overall pick Mark Appel led the package. A Houston native who didn’t sign a year earlier with the Pirates after being picked eighth, the stars were aligned for Appel to become the Astros version of Stephen Strasburg or Clayton Kershaw.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always turn out that way. Especially for young pitchers. Appel is currently out of baseball after stepping away from the game in February.

It was tough sledding in the minor league circuit for the former prodigy, with an ERA over 5.00 in five seasons, not to mention a slew of injuries like his bad shoulder in 2017, his final season to date.

Appel may or may not be back (only two other number one picks never made the majors) but at least the Phillies did find a rotation member in the package.

It might have been Brett Oberholtzer, originally obtained by Houston in the 2011 Michael Bourn trade from the Atlanta Braves.

The light-throwing lefty impressed during his 2013 rookie season in Houston and ended up being pretty useful for the last place Astros over the next couple seasons.

He pitched 26 relief outings for the Phillies in 2016, notching a save in the process but offering little intrigue across the board. He was claimed off waivers in August by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and hasn’t pitched in the major leagues since 2016.

Part of the Triple-A Buffalo rotation last season in the Toronto Blue Jays organization, he has continued to start at Triple-A this season for the Colorado Rockies-affiliated Albuquerque Isotopes.

On paper, he has MLB credentials but his Triple-A results since 2016 are not good and his Jamie Moyer velocity is largely unwelcome in today’s game.

Tom Eshelman, who I labeled a sleeper prospect prior to this season, was a second-rounder in 2015 by Houston out of baseball haven Cal State Fullerton. Then, he was more of a Thomas.

His first year with the Phillies saw him graduate A-ball, but the transition to Double-A was rocky in 2016. In 2017, he started the season comfortably at Double-A, his trial phase behind him there, and was in Triple-A Lehigh Valley within the first month.

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The control artist was excellent with Bacon USA, with a b-e-a-utiful 2.23 ERA, .94 WHIP and gave up just 2.7 runs per start. It looked like 2018 was going to hold his big league debut, but his second round at Triple-A hasn’t been as magical as his Double-A experience.

He’s not on the 40-man roster, and the Phillies will soon have a decision to make. They have a flux of pitching talent on the 40, but recent trades of Franklyn Kilome (for Asdrubal Cabrera) and McKenzie Mills (Justin Bour) open up a pair of prospective spots for Eshelman.

Before getting to the one that did work out, Philadelphia also acquired minor leaguer Harold Arauz from Houston. A fellow May 29er like myself (and former President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.), he threw a seven inning no-no in High-A Clearwater last season, striking out 10.

Arauz was just recently promoted to Triple-A to supplement big league September call-ups, but is a good bet to begin 2019 back at Double-A after an unremarkable turn there this year.

Another Arauz, also from Panama but unrelated, was dealt back to Houston. The Arauz pairing was not meant to be.

Infielder Jonathan Arauz was 17 when the deal was made, turned 19 a month ago and was recently bumped to High-A after hitting .299 with an .863 OPS (six triples) in Low-A.

While Appel’s bust status puts a damper on the blockbuster trade, the Phillies did manage to get a keeper.

Vince Velasquez is like Ken Giles, just a starter. An extremely hard-throwing righty who will completely lose the strike zone at times, he also has a plus slider like the player he was traded for.

A 2010 second-rounder by the ‘Stros, he made his debut in the organization’s breakthrough 2015 as a hybrid arm. He started seven games, relieved 12 and finished five.

Never an elite prospect but always well-regarded as a capable number three starter someday, his debut was very encouraging.

In 2016 with the Phillies, he became a starter full-time and had 24 outings with his new club. A 4.12 ERA is basically sub-3.00 nowadays, especially for a second-year pitcher. He allowed a career-low 3.1 BB/9 that year, but surrendered nearly nine hits per nine innings. He struck out 10.4 batters per nine, which remains his career-high.

In 2017, he struggled in what many saw as a potential All-Star-making year. This season, he has rebounded with a 4.10 ERA and 9.9 K/9, both way down and up respectively from a year ago.

He remains inconsistent, sometimes barely sweating through four or five innings, but when he’s on, he looks like a potential ace. The 26-year old is eligible for arbitration for the first time this offseason.

Circling back to Giles, he struggled in his first season with the Astros —his third MLB season— and ended up with an ERA higher than his previous two numbers combined (4.11) while picking up five losses after combining for four as a Phillie.

Milwaukee Brewers v Houston Astros Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

He did whiff bates at an incredible rate (14 K/9), punching out 102 hitters in 65.2 innings. He saved 15 games, tying for the club lead with veteran Luke, Son of Greger. (Luke Gregerson.)

2017 was a rebound regular season as he saved 34 games, maintained double-digit K/9 numbers and brought his ERA down to 2.30. Unfortunately...

...the playoffs proved an epic disaster for Giles and he was stripped of his closer role in the World Series. Houston eventually captured their first ever championship, but in no thanks to the volatile version of Ken Giles. He allowed 10 earned runs in 7.2 postseason innings, blowing two saves.

2018 was even worse for Giles, who was anything but the permanent closer come Opening Day. He punched his own face in May, cursed out Manager A.J. Hinch in July and was banished to the minors thereafter.

At the trade deadline a little over a month ago, he was traded again. This time, he was part of a package rather than the result of one. Along with two other pitchers, David Paulino and prospect Hector Perez, the Astros leveraged the former investment for a new one. Another risky prospective closer, Roberto Osuna.

Baggage for baggage made for a very interesting trade. Osuna is younger and the superior talent, but Toronto did manage to turn a sticky situation into one less sensitive while also receiving two very good young pitchers, both in John’s Astros’ Top 10 to begin the year.

Giles is 27 years old, 28 in two weeks, and has two more years of arbitration left. Osuna, an All-Star last year, is somehow still 23 years old.

The original Ken Giles trade in the winter of 2015 has turned into one of many front page headlines. From Appel to Giles to Velasquez to now Osuna, this seven-player deal packs a punch worthy of that many names...and counting.

When they did reach the top of the baseball world, it wasn’t with any help from Giles. However, he did give them a solid 2016 and a good 2017 before falling off the wayside.

The Astros didn’t win the deal, but the Phillies have gotten nothing out of Appel and probably never will. Oberholtzer was a blip on the radar. Eshelman could still be something, but his ceiling is considerably low. The pitching Arauz has promise, but is far from a sure thing.

Velasquez, for all of his bad days, is exceptional on his good ones and gives the Phillies a valuable rotation member. A lot of times, nobody pans out. At least the Phillies got one.

So nobody won. But nobody really lost, either. 1,600 words later and we have a toss-up. I am sorry.

The hero usually wins at the end. I hope you at least enjoyed the ride.